Batman The Animated Series is damn near perfect in just about every way. The design and art direction is unique and memorable. The stories are simple, self-contained treasures that bring a lot of complexity to our favorite characters. The animation is a triumph of traditional hand drawn work. The music is big and resonates with a full orchestra. The voice acting is spectacular, with each actor bringing out emotional performances. It’s a fantastic series that you need to watch right now. (Once again, Andrew Stewart also wrote a great piece on this series that you should check out). And just like with Superman TAS, here are the twenty greatest episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. If you’ve never seen the show, here are some good places to start.
20. Shadow of the Bat
Barbara Gordon is one of Batman’s most enduring characters. She’s got a lot of energy, is very funny, and is just as tough as Batman and Robin. While this wasn’t the first episode Barbara Gordon was introduced in, this was the first episode where she became her alter ego Batgirl. The episode focuses on a plot against Commissioner Gordon, and it’s up to the dynamic duo to stop it, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little help from the new girl on the block. The best parts of the episode are when Robin and Batgirl interact with each other. They’re both funny, and the show did a clever job of setting up their relationship. It has a lot of fun moments, and the mystery in the episode has a lot of great twists and turns that are reminiscent of the Noir stories the creators were inspired by.
19. Nothing To Fear
The Scarecrow’s initial design is one of the weaker looks of the show. His outfit just looked too goofy for the show’s atmosphere. They did eventually fix his design in later episodes, however, his first episode isn’t really about him, but rather about Batman. After Scarecrow douses Batsy with fear gas, Bruce Wayne gets horrid visions about the death of his parents and feels an overwhelming sense of guilt. The episode goes deeper into Batman’s psyche as he fights off the visions and eventually is able to conquer his fear and capture the Scarecrow. With the most quoted line in the show that proved that Kevin Conroy is Batman.
18. Mad As A Hatter
The Mad Hatter (Jervis Tetch) is one of Batman’s less well-known villains in his rogue’s gallery. He certainly has his own stories, but he’s never gotten to Joker or Catwoman levels of notoriety, and it’s a shame, because he can be really fascinating. Jervis Tetch’s introduction focuses on his obsession with a girl he works with named Alice. It starts off fairly innocent, but then it slowly grows more deranged and dark as his wants start to fully grow. The episode mainly focuses on Tetch’s point of view, and how he starts arguing with himself on his controversial methods, but then follows his wants despite growing crueller and more diabolical. And of course it has a bitter, dark ending that the show was known for doing so well
17. Appointment In Crime Alley
The very premise of this episode probably wouldn’t make it pass the writer’s room on any current superhero animated show. There’s no famous villain, it doesn’t follow the traditional story telling methods, and it’s filled with a lot of ambiguity that may not go over well with kids. But, that’s what makes the episode so fascinating. Batman has to go to the Gotham slum Park Row, now named Crime Alley, to meet Dr. Leslie Tompkins on the anniversary of his parent’s death. However, everything that can go wrong does go wrong, there’s a plot by a wealthy businessman to blow up the slum, a crazed lunatic with a gun, armed thugs, and a runaway street car. Batman saves everyone, but he doesn’t really win, again the episode is rather bitter in its ending, but it perfectly shows Bruce Wayne’s endurance and willingness to keep fighting for those in need.
16. If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Rich?
The Riddler’s introduction created a humorous episode for green clad question master. After getting royally screwed over by a shady Drumpf like businessman, Edward Nygma vows revenge on his former employer by kidnapping him and putting him in the center of an amusement park maze filled with death traps. Batman and Robin have to figure out how to get through the labyrinth and save someone that’s not exactly well liked by either of them, but is still an innocent man. The banter between Batman and Robin is funny, but still in character, and it’s easy to feel sympathy toward Edward Nygma as he did get screwed by shady yet legal business practice. Despite being a funny episode, it still has some of that ambiguity the show was known for.
15. The Laughing Fish
The Joker was one of the show’s many crowning achievements. The range of Mark Hamill’s voice could jump from playful to terrifying in a heartbeat. There were many episodes dedicated to his special brand of crazy, but there’s something that’s both very menacing and bizarre about this one. The Joker decides that he wants to obtain a hedonistic lifestyle by creating a special brand of fish that share his smile. But, once he finds out that he can’t trademark a fish because it’s a national resource, he hunts down copyright lawyers until he can get what he wants. His plan makes no sense, and it’s really funny to laugh at it, but the episode gets haunting when Joker starts going after these poor guys who are just doing their job. But, as Batman says, “in his sick mind, that’s the joke.”
14. Legends of the Dark Knight
When the show combined with Superman TAS, the show took a new direction in terms of look and story telling. Some episodes were fantastic, and others were just okay, but one of the best ones in the new season focuses on three kids describing what Batman is like. One views him as a monster, one views him as the classic 1966 Batman, one views him as The Dark Knight Returns, and one views him as Joel Schumacher’s films. No really, they make fun of the Schumacher films, and it’s pretty awesome. The vignettes are short and sweet, and the episode is pretty simple overall, but the episode shows just how many creators have reinterpreted Batman, and why he has a lasting impact on artists and creators.
13. I Am The Night
Here’s another episode that probably wouldn’t have made it pass the writer’s room, but this one is a little different from the “Appointment in Crime Alley.” This episode is more internal; we see Batman, tired and withered. You see him being buried by the weight of exhaustion from everything, and after a criminal named the Jazzman shoots Gordon, Batman feels that he’s failed enough and decides to not be the Dark Knight anymore. This episode is really heavy, and dark, but it never gets melodramatic. It’s interesting to see the character doubt himself so heavily that he considers quitting, and it’s genuinely disconcerting to see Gordon get shot, and be in danger. But, thankfully Batman triumphs over Jazzman, and his own insecurities.
12. The Man Who Killed Batman
One of the greatest aspects of this show was how well it made Gotham City seem like a real place. It did this very well by creating communities in its little world. It’s displayed in many episodes, but this episode does it even better, by showing the community of crime in Gotham and its hierarchy. The episode is told from the point of view of a timid little screw up named Sid the Squid and how he allegedly killed of Batman. Suddenly he’s the most popular criminal in Gotham, but his fame comes with a price, and gets him into a lot more trouble than he could have ever imagined with characters like crime boss Rupert Thorne and the Joker. This episode brilliantly made Gotham feel like a real place, and gave a lot of character to the grunts of the crime world. It’s also one of the funniest episodes ever written with great jokes and banter, particularly with Joker’s funeral for Batman. Yes, you read that right.
11. Perchance To Dream
Imagine waking up in a world where you got everything you ever wanted, and became free of all your responsibility, but you knew that it was all a lie. Would you stay in this world? Or would the truth demand you to abandon it? This is the predicament Batman finds himself in one day, he wakes up and he’s not Batman anymore. On top of that his parents are alive, he’s marrying Selina Kyle, and there is someone to fight crime as Batman for him. It’s everything he could have ever wanted, but just as he starts to accept it, he discovers that it’s not real. So he takes on his alter ego to discover the truth, which I wont reveal here. It’s a slow burn of an episode, but it has that wonderful darkness that just plunges you into dark recesses of the mind.
10. Growing Pains
Clayface’s introduction was met with a lot of heartache and dread, as we saw his life get destroyed by a chemical compound that turns him into living mud. Most of his episodes were heavy, but this one smacks you right in the feels. Clayface creates a little girl named Annie to scout out Gotham City for him, she somehow creates her own consciousness, and asks Robin (Tim Drake) to help her out. Of course Clayface finds the two, and they try to fight him off, but Annie realizes that there’s no escape, so she latches himself back on to Clayface and is able to subdue him. Now in most kids cartoon shows this type of episode would most likely have a happy ending in some way. Not here. Annie is dead and she never comes back. Batman! It makes you feel things you never wanted to before.
9. It’s Never Too Late
This is an episode that gets overlooked, and it’s a shame, because it’s a real gem. Crime boss Arnold Stromwell is in a gang war with up and coming Mafioso Rupert Thorne over the flow of drugs in the city. Yeah, this show didn’t sugar coat anything, it talked about drugs in a very realistic way. Batman comes in to try and help Arnold get out of the business by showing his drug addicted son, and even tries to get a priest to talk some sense into Stromwell. The episode gave a lot of depth and humanity to a crime boss and even showed some disturbing imagery and touched on very adult themes. But, it never talked down to kids, it treated every audience member with a great level of respect. And yes this episode will also probably make you break out the tissue boxes.
8. The Joker’s Millions
This is another episode that gets overlooked, and the reason it’s on this list is because it’s a bit more of a pick me up after the last bunch of episodes mentioned. The Joker is broke, but he supposedly inherits a former crime lord’s wealth. Instead of using the money to create more crimes, Joker decides to live his life well and indulge in, and the Dark Knight is livid about his new-found wealth and freedom. But, of course it all turns out to be a sham, and Joker freaks out about the IRS. It’s a very funny episode, and definitely worth while, and it’s the only Joker episode where you actually feel kind of bad for him.
A common criticism of Batman is that he creates his own villains, and that his actions probably do more harm than good. This episode spins that argument on its head by having a trial in Arkham Asylum. Two-Face is the prosecutor, Joker is the judge, and new DA Janet Van Dorn Batman’s defense. The only problem is Van Dorn thinks Batman is a menace and deserves to be locked up just like the rest of them. This is a fun episode, because all the villains are together and interacting with each other. Janet Van Dorn is another great character that sadly didn’t appear much in the show, but really the best part of it is how The Dark Knight and Van Dorn realize that they are both fighting for the same goals in the end, and how they’re going to escape a courtroom of insanity.
6. Heart of Ice
Mr. Freeze was one of the Caped Crusader’s sillier villains, but this show completely reinvented him as a more sociopathic, revenge driven character that had a tragic back story. The back story was so popular that the comics adopted it, and most people consider it to be the official cannon. Everyone knows it, Freeze’s wife is dying, Freeze cryogenically freezes her, Freeze gets screwed over by a greedy business man, random chemicals happen, and then the ice suit cometh. The episode did this back story so well that it turned this goofy looking walking refrigerator into a tragic character that’s almost Shakespearean. This episode was so good it won the creators their first Daytime Emmy. It certainly wouldn’t be their last.
5. Mad Love
So, remember that little talk about this show not sugar-coating anything? This episode goes up to 11 on the disturbing factor as it looks closely at the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. Here we discover that the Joker manipulated Harley when she was a psychiatrist at Arkham and warped her mind. Before she was independent, but now she is a tool for the Joker’s disposal, and she doesn’t even realize it. She gets abused for almost killing Batman, all of her love is not reciprocated, and The Joker just keeps reinforcing the idea that it’s all her fault. She doesn’t get the joke. But, there isn’t a joke to get, the Joker is a monster that will continue to torture Harley Quinn until the day they die. The episode is based on a comic that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm worked on. The comic goes into more detail, but the voice actors in this episode really give it their all, and create one of the most heart breaking episodes ever.
4. Almost Got Im
Gotham City’s infamous rogue’s gallery is often considered to be the best aspect of Batman. The criminals are so creative, and interesting that they often steal the show. So having five of them in the same room together bouncing off each other is somehow so perfect. Two-Face, Joker, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, and Penguin are hanging out in a speakeasy playing poker. They’re not planning anything, they’re not there to pull off a heist, they’re just hanging out, and swapping stories about how they almost killed Batman. The conversations these characters have felt so real, and funny. It’s not loaded with quips either, the dialogue feels natural, and brings life to these characters. They poke fun at each other, they comment on all the stories, and they seem to weirdly get along for homicidal maniacs. The little stories they all tell are wildly entertaining, and funny on top of the banter, but the episode never loses the Noir atmosphere it creates. It’s a great episode that works well with so many awesome baddies.
Many of Batman’s villains are outcasts shunned from society, and take their rage out on those who cast them out. Mary Dahl is no exception, but this episode plays with the concept in a different way. Mary Dahl (a character created for the show) was the star of a cheesy 50s style sitcom called Baby Doll, a show where she played a tiny tot that caused a lot of trouble. She was born with a rare condition called systemic hypoplasia that causes her body never age. When she was on the show, she was loved, but laughed at and it started to do things to her mind as she grew older. When she tries to quit the comedy routine and do Shakespeare it doesn’t go well. She goes insane and ends up kidnapping the cast, so she can feel that sense of love attention again. This episode is heartbreaking, because we feel her pain just moments after we laughed at her antics. It’s silly on paper, but handled really well in this episode and it just hits you right in the gut. It’s funny yet tragic, colorful yet dark, sympathetic yet horrifying.
2. Robin’s Reckoning
Another episode that earned the creators an Emmy; this episode explores Robin and Batman’s relationship and how they’re both very similar and yet very different. The episode goes back and forth between Bruce and Dick’s first meeting, and how their viewpoints on each other can escalate. We see Dick’s parents die, and the fallout of his guilt, and Bruce’s quest to find their killer, a sleazeball named Tony Zucco. The Dynamic Duo get at each other’s throats, and go hunting for Zucco each on their own. What’s great about the episode is that we see how personal both take this case, and how Batman trained Robin so well. It also shows that both heroes really care about the other, and wouldn’t know what to do if one died. Also this episode had a lot of atmosphere and mood by showing the even sleazier side of Gotham, there was even a hooker in it, again this show didn’t sugar coat anything. It’s a great story about the Dymanic Duo, a great introduction to Robin’s character, and is a bit of a tear-jerker.
Two-Face is the perfect episode. It has a tortured soul, a strong Noir atmosphere, and shows that Batman just can’t save everybody, no matter how hard he tries. The episode is all about Harvey Dent’s transformation, and how he battles a dark other side to himself named Big Bad Harv. As Dent gets more stressed from the weight of his job, the criminal enterprises blackmailing him, a broken legal system, and a fiancé to satisfy, Big Bad Harv starts taking over Dent’s mind and body. His severe split personality disorder comes to full fruition when an explosion destroys half of his body. What’s really sad about this episode is that Harvey Dent was well established in the show before this. He was Bruce Wayne’s friend and was working as the district attorney for Gotham City. So, to see this character completely transform into this monster, and then to see Bruce’s guilt for being unable to save him is diabolically depressing, and the episode doesn’t have a happy ending like most of these. Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face, and he’s forever tortured by himself and has to be stopped by his former friend. It’s the best episode of the series.
And there you have it guys the 20 greatest episodes of Batman The Animated Series. Looking back on these episodes it’s amazing how much this show got away with, and it probably wouldn’t do as well in today’s market, so it’s pretty fantastic that we got such a great show at the time it came out. Do you agree with the list? Or did you not see some of your favorite episodes on there? Let us know in the comments below. And in just two weeks Batman V Superman will be here, and we still have more animated awesomeness to cover. Next time we’re looking at the adaptation of one of the most well-known Superman story of all time, his death. Join us next time as we look at Superman Doomsday, the animated adaptation of The Death of Superman.